JOHN 9:1-41.MARCH 15.
OUR Lord was in Jerusalem on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles, in the fall of the third year of his ministryjust six months before his crucifixion. No doubt there were then as now many blind men sitting by the wayside soliciting alms, especially at that season of the year, when the crowds gathered for worship and were apt to feel benevolent. Our Lord did not heal all of these blind; the recorded instances are just six. His mission was not for the healing of the sick, but for the preaching of the Gospel, the power of healing being exercised merely to point to the Gospel message, as in the instance given in this lesson.
As our Lord and the apostles passed one of these blind men it was noted that he was blind from birth. Probably his asking for alms led to a discussion of a very important question raised by the apostles"Lord, which did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" It may be that the apostles were less clear in their logic than usual, else they might have known that the man could not have sinned before birth; but it is barely possible that some of the heathen ideas respecting the transmigration of souls had come to their attention. Satan has deluded many of the heathen into the supposition that they lived before in some other form or condition and that having been born into the world they were merely having life renewed under changed conditions, either better or worse than previously. This view is held by millions of Buddhists and also by the Mormons. The Scriptures, however, are very explicit to the contrary, teaching that Adam was a direct creation of God and that all the human family have sprung direct from him by natural processes of birth.
Our Lord's reply that neither this man nor his parents had sinned is not to be understood as meaning that he and his parents were without blemish, without a share in the condemnation which came upon Father Adam and which, through him in a general way, has come to all of his posterity. Of this the Apostle says, "By one man's disobedience sin entered into the world and death as the result of sin, and thus death passed upon all men." (Rom. 5:12.) This blind man and his parents as members of the Adamic race were under the death sentence, the same as ourselves and others. Our Lord evidently meant and was understood to mean that it was not because of any special sin committed by this man and his parents that he had been born blind. Similarly on another occasion he said, speaking of those upon whom the Tower of Siloam fell, "Think ye that these were sinners above other men? I tell you, Nay; but unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish"not all perish in the same manner, but all shall die. (Luke 13:4.) The death sentence is over all, and [R4148 : page 77] only by getting into relationship with the Life-giver can any of us hope to escape it.
The principal point of this lesson, therefore, is that calamities are not necessarily marks of divine disapproval. It was not so in this man's case; it was not so in the case of Job nor in the instance of the burial under the Tower of Siloam. Nevertheless, our Lord did imply that with the Jews special sickness often meant stripes or punishment for personal sin. Thus in the case of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda; in a previous lesson we noted our Lord's words to the healed one, "Go thy way, sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee." It is undoubtedly true that many of the ailments that afflict mankind are the results of improper living on their part or on the part of their forefathers. Scrofula is such a disease, often being transmitted through several generations; gout is another. Indeed we could mention scores. It is proper, therefore, when we find ourselves in sickness, that we examine carefully to what extent we ourselves have been responsible through careless living, either through eating or drinking too much, or by the use of foods unsuited to our condition. If we find the cause of such an ailment in such a direction it is well that we repent thereof and take such steps in an opposite direction as may be possible to us, while with prayer we resolve that with the Lord's assistance we shall be more consistent [R4149 : page 77] in the future; that our eating and drinking and whatsoever we may do may be to his glory and for the best possible preservation and usefulness of the mortal body we have consecrated to his service.
But if on investigation we cannot find that our experience and sickness were the result of self-gratification nor the result of hereditary disease beyond our control, it would be well, then, for us to examine carefully and note whether or not our experiences had resulted from our activity in the Lord's service. If so, we should glory in them; we should rejoice that we have been enabled to lay down some of life and health in the service of him who did so much for us. Nevertheless as wise stewards we should seek to note whether or not we could accomplish as good results or better by a different course, one which might be less exhausting, less debilitating. Even then, however, the thought before our minds should not be self-protection, for he that loveth his life to an improper degree will lose it. Our thought should be our responsibility as stewards, that we might accomplish in our bodies that which would be most pleasing and acceptable in his sight. If none of these suggestions seems to fit our case we still have two others to examine:
(1) Might our sickness be a chastisement for a course displeasing to the Lord? Might it be in the nature of stripes? If in our minds we can find sin at the door of our heartsa wrong course of life, it would be safe to accept the experience as a chastisement and to seek to profit thereby. But otherwise, (2) finding none of these things to fit the case we should consider that our affliction, as in the case before us in this lesson, is simply for our welfare, to assist us to the application of some valuable spiritual lesson, or, as our Lord expressed it, that the works of God might be made manifest. It should be our pleasure to glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits [minds] which are his, either by receiving good lessons ourselves or by pointing good lessons to others. As we shall see this was much the experience of the blind man; his case was one which operated as a blessing for himself and as a manifestation of the Lord Jesus and his power and as a testing to the Pharisees and others of his time and as a valuable instruction to many of the Lord's people from that day until the present time.
We emphasize the fact that the works of God were not merely in the healing of one out of thousands of sick and blind, but the manifestation of Jesus as the Light of the world and the influence and testing which that would mean to the Jewish peoplegathering out of them a little handful of Israelites indeed for membership in the Bride class and the rejection of the great mass of that nation as unfit for a share in the heavenly Kingdom. This work our Lord proceeded to do in the healing of this blind man, saying, "I am working the works of him that sent me while it is day. The night cometh when no man can work." Our Lord's day of opportunity was rapidly drawing to a close. This miracle and others, especially the awakening of Lazarus, brought him so prominently before the eyes of the people that there was a division amongst them concerning these things, some accepting, some rejecting, and this division must necessarily proceed throughout the whole nation. It was the test, and it must culminate in a night time in which the Light of the world, Jesus, would be for a time entirely extinguishedbefore the Israelites, before Pilate, at Calvary. Similarly with each one of the Lord's followers we might say that there is a day time of opportunity when his time and talent and zeal may bring forth fruitage to the Lord's praise, and that the opportunities then afforded should be exercised to the fullest, for to each will come a night time when the opportunities will pass from him as he passes into death.
In harmony with this is the prophetic statement, "Do with thy might what thy hand findeth to do: for there is no work nor device nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave [sheol] whither thou goest." (Eccl. 9:10.) And there is another application still which we should not forget, namely, that the Church as a whole has had varying experiences. Beginning at Pentecost there was quite an illumination upon the early Church; but it was not morning time, it was evening time. The glow of light which was upon them was from the setting sun; gradually the darkness came and throughout the long epoch of this Gospel Age gross darkness has prevailed and in it the Lord's people have been able to see only a little of the pathway at a time; as it is written, "Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a lantern to my footsteps." That epoch in general has been called the "dark ages," and now we are approaching the dawning of the morning and the path before shines more and more.
The light now shining more closely resembles that which shone upon the early Church, and in both instances it is the light of the parousia, the light of the presence of the Son of Man. But even in this morning of dawning light we are to expect another time of deep darkness: a night time in a certain sense will intervene, an overcasting of the skies, a great morning storm, as the Lord has foretold through the Prophet, "The morning cometh, a night also." (Isa. 21:12.) The morning is here, but before it is ushered in in the full splendor of Millennial brightness the great storm of the time of trouble will break"a time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation." (Dan. 12:1.) Therefore we may well say to ourselves, individually and as the Body of Christ, we "must work the works of him that sent us"who commissioned us while it is day, while the light of the sun is upon us, because the night of trouble cometh when no man can work, when our opportunities for serving the cause and the brethren and for the public dissemination of the Truth will be forcibly closed by the powers that be.
Our Lord added, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." The light shone amongst them to reprove the evil and to encourage the good for another six months, up to the time of our Lord's crucifixion, but he left behind him some who were receptive to the influence of the light, his Spirit, and who were illuminated by the Pentecostal blessing. Of these he said, "Ye are the light of the world." "Let your light so shine before men that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father in heaven." Thus, as the Apostle says, "As he was, so are we in this world"lights shining in darkness, appreciated not, comprehended not, understood not, refused, repulsed by the great mass, even by those who claimed to be the people of God, but whose hearts were not in such sympathy with the light as to permit them to receive the holy Spirit's illumination. For be it noted that there is quite a distinction between having the holy Spirit and being illuminated by it so as to let our light shine, and on the other hand being of those upon whom such illumination shines. Our Lord let his light shine upon many, and so we have opportunity to let our light shine upon many. But no one has the light within him except he is begotten of the holy Spirit.Heb. 10:32.
This little discussion was probably within the hearing of the blind man and intended not merely for him but also for the disciples and all who have since believed on the Lord through their words. Afterwards our Lord spat upon the ground and made an ointment with the dust and saliva, with which he anointed the eyes of the blind man. All this implies some assistance from the blind man. His assent is also implied in his going at our Lord's bidding to wash in the waters of the pool of Siloam. Faith was first followed by works and this attested a degree of perfection. If he had not believed he would not have submitted to the anointing, neither would he have left his seat as a beggar to go and wash. The ointment which our Lord made and used, we may safely say, had no particular virtue in it, neither had the waters used any virtue in them, and this fact is recognized in the whole narrative; it was merely an aid to the blind man's faith, but did not in his mind perform the cure; he recognized that it was a miracle, as did the Pharisees. The great weight of this miracle lay in the fact that this man was born blind, and as he said subsequently no one up to that time had ever heard of the opening of the eyes of one born blind. Indeed, oculists today tell us that with all the advancement of science since on this line those who are born blind are beyond hope of relief, except in the one ailment, cataract. And in this case the remedy is but partial, through a surgical operation; removing the lens, for which an artificial one is substituted.
The miracle was evidently the talk of all in the vicinity of the man's home; neighbors and friends congratulated him, but some were unable to believe that it was the same person, unable to believe that one born blind should ever be able to see. It became quite an advertisement for Jesus, for the man when asked how it came that he could see told that a person named Jesus had performed the miracle. The Pharisees, already envious and seeking occasion to kill our Lord, had, we are told, formulated a resolution that if any one confessed Jesus as the Messiah he should be excluded from the synagogue and its privileges as unworthy of the honor and liberty and privileges belonging to a true Jew. Lest the matter should spread, and, if possible to corner it and head it off, they made an investigation. Going to the man's father and mother, the parents simply told the truth and avoided anything further, saying that they knew him to be their son and that he was born blind and that now he saw; but how [R4150 : page 78] they could not say, for they did not see; he was of age and able to speak for himself. The once blind man was again interrogated: How? When? Where? as though to entrap him in an untruth. His own heart honest, he perceived that these so-called holy men were so opposed to Jesus that they were trying every way to disprove or belittle the miracle.
Turning to the healed man the Pharisees said to him, Thank God for your sight, even though it came through a bad channel, for we know that this man Jesus who healed you is a sinner, is a hypocrite, is a falsifier in claiming to be Messiah; he is a bad man. This was more than the once blind man could or should endure; he must not hear the character of his best friend traduced without speaking a word in his defense; he therefore said, This is a very remarkable case that a miracle should be performed such as never before was heard of, and that the man to perform the miracle should be a sinner with whom God would have no dealings; this is indeed remarkable. It has been a teaching amongst us Jews that God would not even hear the prayer of sinners; how then could this man, a sinner, have performed so stupendous a miracle? Then they began to cross-question him again respecting the how and when and where. But perceiving their dishonesty of heart he said to them, Why are you asking [R4150 : page 79] again? You remember what I told you; are you anxious to become his disciples that you want me to explain further, or what is your motive? Perceiving that their hypocritical designs were discovered, they railed at the man, saying, No, we are not Jesus' disciples; you are one of his, we are Moses' disciples. We know that God appointed Moses, and by his Law we stand; as for this man, who knows anything about him? He is said to come from Nazareth, but is not of wonderful parentage, and is not the kind of a Messiah that we have been expecting, with power and great glory and ability to deliver our nation from the hands of the Romans. You had best follow him, we will have nothing to do with you or him; do not come again to our synagogue. Consider yourself an outcast from the religious people of your own nation.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out and found him and said to him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? In answer to the man's desire to know more our Lord revealed himself to him as the Messiah. Then he worshiped Jesus. Notice the exercise of the Lord's providential care over this man and his interests. He did not spare him from being cast out of the synagogue, but turned the same into a special blessing of instruction of much advantage to the man in every way.
In the various features of this incident we today find a lesson along higher lines. Some of us were born blindblind to the Lord and his true character, blind to the truth of the divine Word. The blindness upon us was neither our own fault nor the fault of our parents. They as well as we were honest-hearted toward the Lord. Our blindness, therefore, was not a chastisement for sins. The darkness, the blindness, which so long has overspread Christendom entrapped us as well as others, but the Lord had mercy upon us and passed our way and made ointment and eyesalve for us. He took of the clay of human agency and mixed it with his Word, the fruit of his lips, and with that combination he gave us the anointing of the eyes of our understanding and bade us wash in the waters of Siloam, his Word of truth and grace. We followed his prescription and now we see. A new world is opened before us, "Wonderful things in the Bible we see!" The Scribes and Pharisees of our day wonder, criticise and try to account for the blessing which has come to us, and of course will find fault with every agency which the Lord has used in connection with our blessing, for their hearts are not in the right attitude to appreciate the light of the favor of God.
It is for us now to take a similar stand to that which this blind man took, to confess the truth, confess the light, confess the miracle which the Lord has wrought upon the eyes of our understanding and to give him our hearts. And it is also for us to find that this will bring against us the anger, the chagrin, the malice of the Scribes and Pharisees of our day. It is for us to find that this will lead men to separate us from their company, to cast us out of their synagogues. Through the Prophet the Lord has foretold this, saying, "Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out, said, The Lord be glorified [we do this casting out for the good of the Lord's cause that we may glorify him]. But he shall appear to your joy and they shall be ashamed." (Isa. 66:5.) How many of the Lord's people have found that the major part of their blessing comes after they have acknowledged the Truth, stood up for it and endured some persecution on its account! Then the Lord findeth them, he knows where they are and all about them all the time, but then he reveals himself to them specially that they may know him, that they may have fellowship with him, that they may receive from him a blessing, as in the case of this blind man.
The last two verses of our lesson call our attention to the theological pride of the Pharisees. And, alas, in this also, we must concede that they represent fitly some of their successors in Spiritual Israel who are spiritually proud. Our Lord had declared that his coming into the world would prove a judgment or testing to that order of things, that some of the blind would be made to see and some of those who had been seeing would become blind. That is to say, the truth would prove a testing to many, some coming out of the blindness and darkness and ignorance and superstition to an appreciation of the grandest of God's blessings, and others, who had a larger measure of favor previously, lapsing into a blind condition. Those who received the Lord received enlightenment at Pentecost, and the Apostle remarks that the remainder were blinded and are to remain blind until the close of this Gospel Age.
Hearing his remark about the blind ones seeing and the seeing ones becoming blind the Pharisees said to the Lord, In what list are you placing us? not amongst the blind, we hope? Jesus replied that it would have been better for them if they had been blind, if their course had been actuated by total ignorance, but the case was different. They did have considerable enlightenment and therefore corresponding responsibility, but because of their pride and self-sufficiency in taking what they did see as the whole truth and rejecting the real message of the Lord they were hardening themselves against the light, against the truth, and their sin was fastening itself upon them, shackling them so that they could not and would not and did not receive the light that was then due.
Are there not a good many in this situation today, prominent Christian people boasting of their enlightenment and yet afraid of the light of God's Word and afraid, ashamed to acknowledge either their own ignorance of it or the light that is now shining upon it by the Lord's presence and through the channels which he is using for the scattering of the light in this present time? Let us be prompt to acknowledge that we have nothing of our own, neither light nor wisdom, and let us receive at the Lord's hands the true wisdom, the true enlightenment which comes from above. If all could come to this position rapidly the truth would spread. The great opposition comes from those who claim to know but do not really know; whose boastfulness and pride not only hinder them from entering into the light, but lead them also to hinder others from appreciating it.